In the late 1800s, there’s a wild storm during the night right at bedtime for Lord Monroe (Bill Lobley), the proud owner of a stunningly large manor house in Canterville Chase, England. However, before going to bed with his teddy bear, Lord Monroe encounters something strange, scary, and unexplainable. A ghost scares him and speaks in a firm, clear voice, demanding that Lord Monroe leave the house immediately. Lord Monroe dashes into his bedroom, trying to escape, but sadly, he is unsuccessful.
Next, we are introduced to the Otis family, who are moving into their new home, the Canterville Chase Manor, which they purchased at a bargain price due to multiple claims that the house is haunted. They are even given a note informing them that the past owner, Lord Monroe, is now living in an asylum and hasn’t stopped screaming since his haunting encounter. Throughout history, every owner of the Canterville Manor has encountered a ghost at some point, rumoured to be named Sir Simon de Canterville (Stephen Fry). Hiram (David Harewood), the family’s father, is determined that no ghost will scare him or his family away.
Naturally, Virginia (Emily Carey), his daughter, is not pleased about moving into the new home and soon encounters the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville lurking around the house. At first, Virginia is a little scared but quickly overcomes her fears and stands up to him, declaring he’s not that scary. Virginia encourages the ghost to scare her family, hoping they’ll pack up and leave, which also doesn’t go to plan, as the Otis family are, in fact, unafraid. Virginia makes several discoveries as she spends time in her new home and learns more about the new ghostly presence. Legend and rumour have it that Simon de Canterville may have murdered his wife. Virginia is determined to find the truth about the home and the dark rumours surrounding Simon de Canterville.
The Canterville Ghost is a fantasy with comedic elements. While the film is aimed more at families, given the animation style, some younger audiences may find this film scary due to the ghostly presence of Simon de Canterville. For those unaware, The Canterville Ghost is based on a comedic and satirical novella, The Canterville Ghost, published in 1887 and written by Oscar Wilde.
I admired some animation details, including the general look of Simon de Canterville and the Canterville Chase manor, which looks stunning. However, I can’t deny that overall, the animation looks cheap, and I found it disappointing. Most of the animation lacks depth and looks dull, and many side characters lack detail, particularly in facial expressions. The voice work; however, is impressive, with characters voiced by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emily Carey, and Miranda Hart as an energetic and passionate ghost catcher.
Pacing-wise, there’s a strong set-up and a good introduction to the manor, the ghost Sir Simon de Canterville, and the Otis family. I enjoyed seeing this family handle the ghostly presence differently to previous owners. However, once Virginia begins an unlikely new friendship with Simon de Canterville, the film goes in a different direction, focused on redeeming the ghostly presence. In an attempt to make the ghost more harmless and fun, the fact that he’s been cruel and heartless to many for over three hundred years, with his haunting tactics leaving one in an asylum screaming, is ignored and has no consequences. On top of this, Virginia also strikes up a love interest with a Duke named Henry (Freddie Highmore), who I found relatively annoying as a character as he would often make odd comments. Most of the film feels slow, and it is uninteresting with a climax that carries some form of reveal and heart, but again, it goes far longer than necessary. The comedy here also didn’t work for me. As a parent and family man, some attempted gags only raised my eyebrows. One example is when an older man falls over and yells, “Ouch, my coccyx.” This may elicit tiny giggles from younger audiences, but these gags feel lazy and poorly written.
Overall, while I’m confident the short story from Oscar Wilde would be enlightening and fun, this animated film version is less than enthralling. While some animation elements are outstanding, including the creepy ghost known as Sir Simon de Canterville and the manor of Canterville Chase, the remainder of the film looks cheap, dull, and bland. The opening is grand, introducing a creepy concept and a fun mystery before the story takes a turn for the worse and becomes drawn out with an uninteresting romance. The ghost who has tormented many innocents for three hundred years is soon redeemed, and there are no consequences for his past wrongdoings. As a parent myself, the gags are eye-rolling enough to get a headache, but younger audiences may express minor moments of laughter. The film’s most significant redeeming quality is, in fact, its voice cast, but as impressive as they are, it’s still a baffling and over-drawn-out fantasy film to witness.
The Canterville Ghost (2023) will be available in Australian Cinemas starting January 11th.